He views the entirety of human history through the viewpoint of a black man who may have his body taken from him at any moment for no reason. This business of the ‘body‘ gets old pretty quickly. He’s clearly very proud of coming up with this idea. He can hardly go a page without mentioning The Body in some way. What at first appears to be a clever way of showing that he is grounded in the real world and not merely an intellectual spinning vast webs of fantasy, soon feels like a bit of keyword stuffing to trick the search engines.
He leans heavily to repetition, possibly as a result of his extensive studies of The Classics. He tells and re-tells the names of the recent black men killed by cops. He hits again and again the note of America being built on his sweat and blood-and how only he and his are willing to see the truth.
He delivers all of his opinions as absolute facts. But he makes no bones about this. Between The World and Me is proudly slanted in all possible ways to his world view. I have to admire this. I have never been able to hold so solidly onto any belief. But then, when I encounter the Police, I fully expect to live to see another day. Ta-Nehisi Coates knows that it’s the flip of coin if he will live or die.
He casually drops such phrases as those of us born out of mass rape and generations who knew nothing but chains the way a cookbook would casually mention eggs and milk. He wants us to understand that his world is not the false world of the Dream as shown on television and in films. He wants to constantly remind that the past is never ending. That what happened a thousand years ago is still happening.
Like others before him, Ta-Nehisi Coates wants to lay claim to all human suffering. Every act and action of the Dreamer is responsible for putting him where he is today. He talks about going to college and his endless studies, but at the same time denies that there can be any meaningful self-help. He uses the standard ploy of saying You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold. As opposed to saying long dead people took from other long dead people, he says long dead people are still taking from now living people. He is not a fan of the term personal responsibility. He sees the game as so rigged that personal actions are irrelevant.
In many ways it brings to mind Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl. It’s a glimpse into a world a few steps away from the world where I live, but which seems to be complete and filled with its own language and gestures. Also a world that its authors want to pretend is the only world.
He explains that money is not enough to protect a black body. He tells the tale of a college friend who was killed by the cops, as countless others have been killed. And like countless others, the cop went back to work and the black man was forgotten by the outside world. He talks about all the recent deaths and how everyone blames the victim. His friend came from a well to do family.
It is an interesting book, but like any travelogue from a distant land, he can only tell us what he sees and how the world looks to him.
He offers no rosy ending. No happily ever after where little black children play with little white children. His personal heroes include Malcom X and The Black Panthers. But he isn’t just afraid of The White Man, he’s afraid of everyone and everything. If there is any hope here, it is that his son will not suffer the same fears.Between The World and Me is well worth reading, but it does feel like he’s preaching to the choir.